LAKEHURST – The need may grow each year but thanks to Big Brothers /Big Sisters of Ocean County, numerous businesses and many dedicated individuals, making young people happy during the holidays was once again met during a special children’s holiday celebration.
This year marked the 17th year for the Big Brothers /Big Sisters Holiday Celebration held on Dec. 23. It has always been held at La Bove Grande and was once again chaired by Jackson Township Councilman Scott Martin.
Martin noted that the celebration grew out of a small party with about 30 children and has grown to over 250 children. As per tradition, the party featured several visiting characters one of whom was of course, Santa Claus.
“It makes you feel warm inside,” Martin said amid a flurry of activity that included children enjoying face painting and balloon animal creations by Rockin Roxanne’s Party Magic and DJ music which provided popular holiday tunes adding to the atmosphere.
“The process starts when the kids submit their wish lists in November. We receive many donations that allows us to cover the cost of the presents. I got my daughters involved in helping to give out the gifts and my wife is also involved. We’ve always taught to give back during the holidays,” Martin added.
Contributors included Congressman Chris Smith, 9th District Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, 10th District Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, 12th District Assemblyman Ron Dancer, Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher, Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, OCGOP Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lanuto, Jackson Development Company, the firm of Kelaher, Van Dyke & Moriarty, Owen Little & Associates, T&M Associates, Quality Medical, and JDM Planning Associates.
“When you see the looks on the faces of the kids as they see Santa it brings tears to your eyes. Jerry Bove, the owner of La Bove Grande, donates the use of his banquet hall and all the food for the event. This wouldn’t be possible without all he does for us,” Martin said.
Bove could not be present for this year’s event as he was involved with another holiday spirited effort at the same time. “I do it because the kids deserve to have a special Christmas celebration and some don’t have a chance to have that. I simply provide the food and a place to celebrate it and it is a wonderful thing. God has been good tome and I want to give something back,” Bove said.
“This is a wonderful event,” Ralph Wolff, the board chairman of the Ocean County Big Brothers/Big Sisters said.
The organization’s acting executive director Ida Cahill said that between 150-200 children were expected to attend the day’s party. Scott (Martin) and others help us offset the cost of the gifts from Santa and the cost of the DJ and other things associated with the party. We are still looking to grow as an agency as there is a big need for young people to be guided by an adult. We are looking for volunteers because Big Brothers/Big Sisters makes such a difference in their lives.”
Cahill noted the county’s growing population. “We have many “littles” from Toms River and Lakewood and some in the Seaside Heights area and all over the county. That need is growing and with it will be the need of more “bigs” and additional staff.”
She credited the Ocean County Board of Realtors for helping with their agency wrapping the presents of the day and several 55 and older communities that collected toys from the lists that they were provided. “There is a list of things they want which include clothes and a wish list of toys. Our office has been filled with toys,” Cahill said.
She said she has been working with Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little concerning a future pilot project that will involve department volunteers serving as Big Brothers/Big Sisters for young people. “It will reach the “littles” at an age where they will see the police as their friends and once we see what works, we hope to expand it beyond Toms River.”
The Toms River High School East Art Club created a special holiday themed backdrop that children could pop their faces through for photos. They also made a special coloring book of holiday scenes that each child received.
Oakley Mastej, a junior at the high school is the founder of the 20 member club. He said the club performed a similar service for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Halloween party. “This went well and has been a lot of fun.” He was joined by fellow junior and club member Daniela Luna. Both were pleased that the group’s artwork was being put to good use for others.
Christine Oksuz and her 10-year-old son EJ of Toms River were enjoying the party. “This is a great event and Big Brothers/Big Sisters has been such a blessing to him and our family. He has a “big” named Zack and this is EJ’s second year in the program. We really love it and all the activities involved. He has gone to a Jets pre-season game and there are bowling nights,” Christine Oksuz said.